Choosing alternatives to cow's milk

theGRIO REPORT - While many African-Americans are lactose-intolerant, especially as they age, not everyone who gives up cow's milk has that problem...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

While many African-Americans are lactose-intolerant, especially as they age, not everyone who gives up cow’s milk has that problem.

Yoli Ouya, a New York City-based green chef and eco-stylist, was dared by a boyfriend a few years ago to put the “moo juice” down. She did, hoping to prove him wrong, and was surprised by the results.

“After a few weeks, I actually noticed that I wasn’t congested all the time,” she says. “My menstrual cycles were over 90 percent less painful. I had more energy. There were many factors I changed in my diet, and I feel eliminating dairy was a major part of the shift.”

Ouya, who mostly prefers unsweetened almond milk, eats a primarily plant-based diet and employs eco-friendly cooking into her daily life and career — doing cooking demonstrations around New York and as a member of a coalition called School Food vs. School Lunches.

However, for those who are curious about the various types of milk on grocery shelves, but don’t want to take the pledge of becoming a full time vegan, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for when it comes to the alternatives.

People concerned about weight often should seek out lower-calorie options, while those who don’t eat animal products might go for milk alternatives higher in protein, according to Monica Reinagel, licensed dietitian and nutritionist.

The most common types of dairy alternatives include milk made from rice, soy, almond, hemp, and oat. So many choices can make decision making confusing. But according to New York City based yoga instructor and nutritionist, Candice Taylor, reading and understanding labels is important.

“Don’t think it’s healthy just because it isn’t cow’s milk,” Taylor says. “Make sure that the product is as pure and as high quality as possible.”

Almond milk has no animal products, and is rich in magnesium, potassium, manganese, calcium, copper, and the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium.

The milk — made from ground almonds mixed with water and sometimes, sweetener — is said to be one of the more nutritious milk alternatives on the market. It is also very low in calories and contains no cholesterol.

Rice milk is a source of carbohydrates and useful as a milk substitute for flavoring and cooking purposes.

Hemp milk — made from the seeds of hemp plants, but without the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana — can be a good source of protein, calcium, omega fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals.

Another less common option is oat milk, which is high in fiber, free of cholesterol and lactose, and contains vitamin E and folic acid. It also lacks milk protein, making it ideal for vegans and those with milk allergies.

These types of milk are made either sweetened or unsweetened, and can contain added color and flavors for enhanced taste.

Before shelling out money to buy these milks from a store, consider if it’s worth it, Taylor says.

“All you need are almonds and water, or your basic ingredients and water. So if [you’re drinking] almonds, water, sweetener, color, and vanilla, just think — why don’t I go home, blend it up, and strain it myself? It will be cheaper.”

Taylor usually makes her own almond milk, which involves blending 1 to 2 cups of almonds with 3 to 4 cups of water and straining the mixture.

Ouiya’s rice milk recipe calls for two cups of cooked brown rice blended with 3 to 4 cups of water followed by straining.

If making it at home doesn’t sound appealing, Reinagel says to keep two things in mind.

“I suggest that you look for brands that keep the sugar to 12g or less and the sodium to no more than 100 my per serving.”